In dueling statements, the advocacy group People Advocating Real Conservancy and the developer Public Interest Projects have weighed in on the proposed 51 Biltmore project. PARC is calling it a “boondoggle — a misuse of public funds,” while PIP (who own the land), call PARC’s statements inaccurate and defend the development as necessary to improve downtown.
The project, a combination hotel-retail-parking deck development involving a complex deal between the city of Asheville, Public Interest Projects and the McKibbon Hotel Group, faces a final vote before Council on Tuesday, Jan. 11, and PARC, in a mass e-mail, is trying to rally opposition to the project. In PARC’s view, the project would use city funds — desperately needed for transit and sidewalks — to purchase an overpriced property and back an environmentally damaging way of transit (cars), all for minimal gain.
“This is a great deal for the businesses involved, but not for Asheville. Ask council if they would want a business that they owned to make this same decision!” the statement declares. “Adding more cars downtown just adds pollution, noise, and gridlock. Spending this money on parking is the worst choice for our environment.”
In his response, PIP President Pat Whalen asserts, “No one is making anywhere near the ‘profit’ PARC suggests,” he adds. “Because, unfortunately, tax values don’t have anything to do with what we (or our HDK neighbors) actually had to pay to buy, finance and pay carrying costs on the properties over the years since acquisition.” He adds that “the 51 Biltmore Project is clearly a great alternative to more suburban sprawl, more highway motels, and more acres of suburban parking.”
PARC takes aim at PIP itself too:
“Public Interest Projects is private, not public. It’s a private, for-profit, development corporation that does not operate in the public interest. Many people think it’s a non-profit when they hear its name, but Public Interest Projects is nothing more than a developer with a misleading name,” the group’s statement declares. As for what the city gets, “If we spend that $14.8 million on sidewalks instead of parking decks, Asheville would soon have the sidewalks we so desperately need. East Asheville needs sidewalks. The veterans walking on Tunnel Road would have sidewalks to get from the Vets Quarters to the VA Hospital. Children could visit a friend a few houses over without risking their lives walking in the streets.”
Whalen, on the other hand, lays out the history of the deal and what he thinks the city will gain, along with the reasons he sees for its current form, claiming that each time PIP has changed it, it has been at the city’s request: “The new hotel on this site will generate revenues in the form of property taxes, sales taxes, and hotel taxes. Parking garages generate revenues to pay for themselves over time, from both parking fees and increased nearby property values,” he writes. “Since neither transit nor sidewalks generate net revenue, banks won’t loan money for them. The only way, ultimately, for a City to make a net increase in overall spending, including spending more on transit and sidewalks, is to increase revenues, by either doing and encouraging projects such as this one, or by raising taxes on everyone.”
However, according to PARC, the project will result in far less parking for the area than its proponents assert.
“We’re not gaining 412 spaces,” the statement reads. “The project will occupy 100 parking spaces that exist now, and the hotel will use up another 88 or so, leaving a net gain of just 212 spaces — for a whopping $14.8 million. Can we afford this? Is this a wise use of our City tax dollars?”
“Through this project the City will provide about 350 new public parking spaces for this area (on average, after projected actual use of parking paid for by the hotel at regular rates),” Whalen counters. “Other than meter parking, neither the City nor the County currently provide any public parking spaces in the entire area of downtown south of College Street.”
PARC ends its notice by calling on its supporters to show up at the Council meeting and make their opposition known. The last time the project was up for discussion, on Dec. 14, Council moved it forward 4-2.
— David Forbes, senior news reporter